What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

Some people can socially drink on a night out with friends or casually enjoy a glass of wine with dinner without becoming addicted to drinking. Others, however, may not be able to stop drinking after they start because they’ve developed an addiction to alcohol. In fact, more than 15 million people in the United States alone suffer from dependence on alcohol because of alcohol addictiveness. So, why are people addicted to alcohol? Read on to learn more about alcohol addictiveness. 

Why Do People Get Addicted to Alcohol?


To answer the questions of “What makes alcohol addictive?” and “Why are people addicted to alcohol?”, we need to first understand what alcohol is. Alcohol that’s designed for drinking, which is otherwise known as ethyl alcohol, can cause many changes in the brain and body function that can lead to dependence and addiction. For example, addictive substances in alcohol cause chemicals like dopamine and endorphins to be released in the brain. These chemicals can serve as natural painkillers and can produce feelings of pleasure and ease. Essentially, alcohol affects the brain’s reward center to increase positive energy and decrease anxiety. The pleasurable sensations that alcohol causes can make a person crave it more. This explains why people might like to have a drink to relax or have fun, but what makes them continue drinking heavily, and what makes alcohol addictive?

If someone uses a substance like alcohol consistently enough, their brain and body chemistry will change because of the addictive substances in alcohol. For example, drinking heavily can alter neurons in the brain. Alcohol impacts the areas that control general functions like memory, balance, speech, and judgment. When someone drinks excessively, their ability to make positive decisions and control their impulses is impaired. And they may eventually feel like they need to use alcohol regularly. When someone feels like they need to consume a substance, it’s defined as a dependency. Once someone is dependent on a substance like alcohol, they can quickly develop an addiction. Of course, not everyone has to worry about becoming dependent on alcohol. While this disorder can affect anyone, some individuals are more likely than others to develop an alcohol addiction.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

What makes one person more susceptible to addiction than another and what makes alcohol addictive? Provided below are some of the risk factors for developing alcohol addiction.

  • Misuse of alcohol during adolescence
  • Family history of alcoholism
  • History of mental illness including anxiety
  • Social pressure to drink
  • Alcohol-positive advertising
  • Proximity to alcohol
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • History with trauma

The risks above are important to observe and note when analyzing what may increase a person’s chance of developing an alcohol addiction.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), drinking heavily can lead to severe and long-term health problems including the development of chronic diseases and other serious issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Heavy drinking can also cause breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum cancers. There are also short-term risks from binge drinking including possible injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviors, and more.

Stages of Alcoholism

According to, alcoholism typically progresses through four stages, which are each characterized by different changes in mental, physical, and social functioning.

  • Pre-Alcoholic: During this stage, there’s little evidence of issues with drinking. This stage involves experimentation with alcohol and the development of an alcohol tolerance. An individual may also drink more regularly to cope with anxiety, stress, and other emotions.
  • Early Stage: This stage is when a pattern of alcohol abuse starts as drinking becomes more regular and an individual may consume alcohol to cope with the negative consequences of their drinking (e.g., a hangover).
  • Middle Stage: During this stage, an individual is drinking frequently and consistently, while they experience worsening relationships with friends and family. Their behavior changes begin to impact them negatively, including issues with their health like hangovers or feeling sick when they’re not drinking.
  • Late Stage: The final stage leads to a loss of control over drinking. During this stage, an individual feels a dependence on alcohol, like they must drink to feel normal. If the individual doesn’t drink, they may experience negative withdrawal symptoms as well as intense cravings.

Alcohol Addiction Prevention and Treatment

We’ve proven that the answer to the question “is alcohol an addictive drug?” is a resounding yes. However, how can you prevent alcohol addiction? The most effective ways to prevent alcohol addiction are to monitor your own drinking, drink in moderation, or abstain from alcohol entirely. If you have a history with alcohol addiction or someone in your immediate family is addicted to alcohol, it may be best to avoid consuming alcohol altogether.

If you’re used to drinking heavily, don’t stop suddenly without consulting a medical professional or rehabilitation specialist as you may experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, and it can be dangerous if it’s not treated properly. After an alcohol detox, individuals are encouraged to enroll or continue with substance abuse treatment. Whether someone requires residential addiction treatment or outpatient treatment depends on the severity of their addiction. Treatment methods for alcohol addiction may include 12-step meetings like AA, other types of support groups, behavioral therapies, certain medications, and more.

If you or someone you know is addicted to drinking, we’re here to help. At Silver Pines, we offer a detox program as well as residential addiction treatment. Contact our treatment team at 267.209.7313 for information about our alcohol addiction rehab.


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